Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Oversight by the minority

Conservatives such as Senate majority whip Mitch McConnell (R-KY) denounced yesterday's ad hoc congressional hearing held on the Iraq War by Senate Democrats along with a GOP House member, Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) who accepted the invitation extended to all Republicans. McConnell called the hearing a political "stunt." The reflexive Republican criticism is unsurprising:

"Whether you are Democrat or Republican, for or against the war, oversight is an important congressional function ... and we've had virtually none of it,'' Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said at Monday's hearing.


"I think Republicans should be holding hearings like this on pre-war intelligence,'' Republican Rep. Jones said. "To hold hearings is not to say we'll pull out tomorrow. It's to understand what we should have done as policymakers.''

Bush's rubber-stamp Republicans abdicated their congressional duties to provide oversight of the WH and they don't want the truth of their irresponsibility to come to light.

WaPo's Dana Milbank reported on the hearings (with emphasis):

Maj. Gen. John Batiste, the former commander of the Army's 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, had complained loudly about the handling of the Iraq war since he retired 11 months ago -- but no one invited him to present his views to Congress.

"I find that outrageous," the general said. "I have a sense for what I'm talking about."

Yesterday, Batiste got his moment -- sort of. Shunned by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Batiste and two other retired officers spoke before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, a rump group with little legislative clout but access to a proper Senate hearing room. And Batiste made up for lost time.

When you're the minority party and the Republicans don't furnish oversight of the Bush Administration, what do you do? Just go along? Ignore the voices of military experts such as Batiste? That's what has gotten us into the mess we currently face in Iraq. Why Bush hasn't fired Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, remains a mystery:

"Donald Rumsfeld is not a competent wartime leader," said Batiste, wearing a pinstripe suit, calling himself a "lifelong Republican" and bearing a slight resemblance to Oliver North. "He surrounds himself with like-minded and compliant subordinates who do not grasp the importance of the principles of war, the complexities of Iraq or the human dimension of warfare. . . . Bottom line: His plan allowed the insurgency to take root and metastasize to where it is today."

Further, Batiste charged, Rumsfeld "reduced force levels to unacceptable levels, micromanaged the war" and created an environment where U.S. troops "are doing unconscionable things."

"Our world is much less safe today than it was on September 11," Batiste said, echoing the administration's newly leaked intelligence estimate.

Batiste, who retired in protest rather than accept a three-star promotion, was a persuasive witness...

How can Batiste not be a credible witness? And why has his voice been muzzled? Other generals also testified and the news they shared as military commanders presented a disheartening outlook:

"We must mobilize our country for a protracted challenge," Batiste warned.

"We better be planning for at least a minimum of a decade or longer," contributed retired Marine Col. Thomas Hammes.

"We are, conservatively, 60,000 soldiers short," added retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who was in charge of building the Iraqi Security Forces.

That last remark caused [Chuck] Schumer to shake his head, indicating he was not so sure. And, indeed, the retired officers' recommendations were off-message for the Democrats. Six of the seven Democrats at the hearing supported legislation calling for the start of a troop withdrawal from Iraq this year. One, Richard Durbin (Ill.), voted for the pullout to be mostly complete by next summer.

I wouldn't expect military generals to offer a complete geo-political solution to the Iraq debacle. Their expertise is war. Unfortunately, John Kerry who campaigned for a higher commitment of troops and and international diplomacy in Iraq during his 2004 presidential run wasn't elected and the opportunity to avert the escalating insurgency now in progress has passed. Instead, we got George and with him, Rummy. US presence in Iraq now counterproductive, requires less might, more Iraqi troop training, and more diplomacy in the region to involve countries that benefit from success in Iraq. With its oil reserves, Iraq is an international concern. Yes, long-term, US forces must remain in the region but a phased redeployment on the fringes as John Murtha recommended makes more sense in tamping down resentment of American occupation: 80% of Iraqis want us out. Iraq reconstruction marred by the Administration's bone-headed incompetence must also be rectified. Democrats can do this. Republicans who have ignited global disdain for American foreign policies can't.

But on balance, the retired officers' strong words about the war's conduct outweighed their calls for a greater commitment to Iraq. "Secretary Rumsfeld built his team by systematically removing dissension," Batiste said. "At one point, he threatened to fire the next person who talked about the need for a postwar plan."

Rumsfeld "has tried and continues to fight this war on the cheap," Eaton added. "The Army is in terrible shape, and the Marines aren't much better."

"It is time for him to provide the nation the last in a long series of services and step down," Hammes said coolly.


The questioners skillfully directed the witnesses toward past failures rather than their expansive prescriptions for the future. A notable exception was the relatively hawkish Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), who, as the last questioner, invited the officers to comment on the effect of a specific withdrawal date.

"The result will be a civil war of some magnitude that will turn into a regional mess," Batiste said without hesitation.

To avoid that regional mess, we need more than just Bush's failed policies. We must internationalize the nation-building work to deliver political solutions to a region negatively affected by a destabilized Iraq. That's not possible with Rummy running military operations and a do-nothing Republican Congress that permits an incompetent Commander-in-Chief to run amok.

A chorus of military commanders have called for the defense secretary's resignation:

  • Army General John Riggs

  • Lieutenant-General Greg Newbold, former director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff

  • Major-General Paul Eaton, who oversaw the training of Iraqi troops in 2003-04

  • Marine General Anthony Zinni

  • Major General John Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq in 2004-05

  • Major General Charles H. Swannack, Jr., who led the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq in 2004

  • Marine General Paul Van Ripper, who "retired before Rumsfeld took office, but is currently engaged in war games with two branches of the military

ThinkProgress offers more on generals united in criticism of Rumsfeld.

DailyKos links to Batiste's earlier condemnation of US torture policies. A must-see CNN video of his remarks here.

What I want to know is why won't President Bush ask Rumsfeld to resign? Something isn't right and I suspect Bush's pigheaded loyalty to one of the remaining neocon PNACers--the cabal that pressed for the invasion of Iraq--trumps what's best for the nation. But don't expect the Republicans in Congress to get to the bottom of it. They don't do oversight. The revealed truth might end political careers.